Tag Archives: Gabriel

El Lago Ranchero: 8126 Lakewood Main St Ste 101, Lakewood Ranch, FL

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lago chips and salsatortillas shrimp and veggies rice and beans lago toppings We’ve lived near here for almost 2 years and had never been to El Lago Ranchero before last week. We wanted to use a coupon we had for our old standby, Mi Pueblo, but it was closed. Still craving fajitas, we decided to give El Lago a shot, despite the fact that we’d heard it wasn’t that great. We were happy to find them open on a late afternoon and were seated immediately.

Our waitress was fun and friendly, and brought us our drinks right away (including a sample taste of a margarita for Gabriel) as well as a basket of chips and salsa. We ordered the shrimp and veggie fajitas for 2, which came with sides of rice and refried beans, tortillas, and all of the typical toppings: cheese, sour cream, tomatoes/cilantro/onions, lettuce and guacamole. Everything was tasty, fresh, and was served quickly.

Granted, we didn’t order anything particularly complex, and it’s hard to really mess up fajitas too much, but we really enjoyed it. It’s definitely more Americanized Tex-Mex than authentic Mexican food…but there’s nothing wrong with that in my book. The shrimp were fresh and cooked well, the vegetables were fine, not over-seasoned or over-cooked, and the bill was very affordable.

We will surely go back!

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Lavanda: 1938 Adams Ln Ste 105 Sarasota, FL

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shrimp salad lavandascallops lavanda

The setting of Lavanda is lovely. The restaurant‘s wrap-around porch in the Towles Court Arts District is one of the most peaceful places to eat in Sarasota. It’s almost charming enough to not notice that we are, by about 35 years, the youngest people dining here. It was my birthday, and Gabriel had taken me, by request, to this restaurant that I’d heard so much about.

For someone who reads and writes reviews as frequently as I do, it is no one’s fault but my own that while the overall ratings for Lavanda are excellent, I ignored the fact that it’s simply not my taste. My favorite meals are inventive, exciting, unique. The food at Lavanda is classic, traditional, boring, bland. As soon as I looked over the menu I was concerned. Nothing on this list sounded at all inspired or new. This is the kind of food that feeds (and impresses!) the over 70 crowd who remembers old New York eateries for it’s dimly lit, stodgy, upper crust predictability and not for it’s cutting edge, melting pot, thrilling creativity.

I started with a half-size appetizer. (something worth noting is that I really appreciate half-sizes as an option. I often want a taste and not a filling first course) Steamed large shrimp over baby spinach, artichoke hearts, mandarin slices and toasted pine nuts drizzled with tahini tamarind dressing. The shrimp were large and fresh and the salad itself was a nice mix of flavors and textures- especially the fresh mandarin orange wedges and creamy dressing. There was nothing wrong with this salad- but I did not expect that it would be the best part of my meal. Gabriel had the warm mozzarella with tomato sauce started and I was not particularly impressed. This was not fresh, homemade mozzarella from what I could tell- and if it was, they should really take some brush-up lessons from the amazing owners at Mozzarella Fella on Main St. The tomato sauce was fine- but nothing special. The extra bread they brought us after we’d finished the 2 warm rolls they’d allotted us, was cold.

For my entrée, I had the scallops sautéed with cream, Amaretto and almonds with mashed potatoes and an odd spinach/chick pea side. Who puts chick peas with spinach on the side of scallops and mashed potatoes? That was just a very weird choice that really didn’t go with the meal at all. The scallops were fine- the mashed potatoes were good, the spinach side was just nothing but strange. Overall, it’s not that the food was bad, it was just so totally hum-ho, boring, sleepy, uninspired.

For dessert, we shared the lemon souffle and frankly, it was not worth it. I am VERY much a dessert person, so when a dessert makes me say ‘meh’, you know it’s pretty bad. The souffle was denser and wetter than it should have been, the flavor was more bland, than lemony, and the whole thing had nothing at all interesting about it. Just total blah. Let’s go home to have some ice cream instead.

 

Thai Palace: 4756 W Cortez Rd Bradenton, FL

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thai palace saladthai palace pad thai with squid and shrimppanang curry with tofu rice heart

Gabriel and I were aiming for a Thai restaurant in Bradenton that had been recommended to us. Luckily for us, after getting lost trying to find it, we finally arrived to find that it was closed. We did a quick search and found Thai Palace was nearby and had great reviews. Okay, change of plans and off we went!

During lunch, entrees come with either soup or salad. We both opted for the salad and when it arrived, we worried that it would be an indication of the entree portions. The salad consisted of approximately 3 bites of iceburg lettuce, one tomato, a slice of cucumber and a few shreds of carrot. Not exactly enough to take the hunger edge off. The peanut dressing was good, the basic one that is typically found in Thai restaurants, but not exciting enough to make us very optimistic about what was coming next.

When the entrees arrived soon after we finished our minuscule salads, we were pleasantly surprised right away. The presentation was lovely with a beautiful orchid and a fish shaped dish, and the aroma from both dishes was awesome. The pad thai with squid was excellent. I can easily say it was the BEST Pad Thai I’ve had since moving from NYC to Florida, and that alone is worth the 30 minute drive it took to get there. The balance of the salty, sweet, peanut sauce and the fresh sauteed squid couldn’t be better. The creaminess of a light coating of the sauce didn’t overpower or smother the consistency of the noodles. Big yum.

We also shared a delicious Panang Curry with Tofu. The curry sauce was blended with coconut milk and peanuts. The various fresh vegetables included carrot, mushroom, snowwpea, baby corn, bell pepper, celery, and zucchini. This sauce had so much complexity to it and we both couldn’t get enough. We actually ordered a second helping of rice- something that we really never do, because we couldn’t possibly let all of the extra sauce go to waste.

I was VERY happy that the little, boring salads were not at all representative of the abilities of the chef here. Our meal, overall, was far and away the best Thai food we’ve had in a while- and we go out for Thai food frequently. Although the drive is a little far, there is no question that both of us want to go back asap. Bravo Thai Palace!

Siam Orchid Thai: 4141 S. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, FL

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thai cuc saladthai ginger tofo and veggies pad thai with shrimp

Eventually I may stop being shocked about how many awesome Thai restaurants there are in Sarasota, but so far, I am still in the constantly-pleasantly-surprised phase since moving here from NYC a year and a half ago.

Siam Orchid is next door to my favorite Tuesday night yoga class (6:30 on Tuesdays at Family Tree Yoga) so Gabriel and I stopped in for a quick dinner there recently. There were only a couple of tables with people at them, so we were told to sit anywhere we liked. Menus and ice water were brought over right away by a very sweet woman (maybe the owner?) and we took a few minutes to decide what we wanted to order.

We asked if the soup that comes with the entrees was vegetarian and were told that it wasn’t, but that she would ‘take care of us’. Cold cucumber salad in a light vinegar dressing was brought over shortly and we both enjoyed it very much. It was colorful, refreshing and mild in flavor.

For our entrees we shared the classic shrimp Pad Thai and the Ginger Tofu. The portions were on the small side but SO delicious, and definitely filling enough for the two of us.

The price was a little more than we  thought it should be given the small portions, but the food was prepared so nicely- light and healthy , not drowning in sauces, and with super fresh ingredients, that we will probably return again.  Yum!

 

Isan Thai Restaurant: 5758 S. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, FL

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shrimp fresh rolls cucumber salad cashew nut veggies and tofucoconut mango sticky rice

Gabriel and I were hungry after class at Family Tree Yoga ( http://familytreeyogasrq.com )  on Tuesday night (taught by my hunky honey ( www.magicsandbox.com ) so we decided to check Yelp for somewhere close by with great Thai food. When Isan came up, we thought it was be a perfect idea. I actually pass it frequently since I work nearby and often go to Phillippi Creek park on my lunch breaks to read…I just had no idea that it had so many great reviews.

We walked in to find a sparkling clean establishment with pretty, carved-wood booths and smiling waitresses dressed in traditional Thai outfits. Our menus and waters were brought over promptly and we took a few minutes to decide what we wanted to order.

We started with the shrimp fresh rolls and the cucumber salad. Both were served quickly, filled with crisp, fresh, bright, ingredients and flavored simply. The peanut dipping sauce for the rolls had a creamy, rich taste, and was smoother than most peanut sauces I’ve had. I believe it had more Hoisin sauce than I’m used to, and I really enjoyed that. The cucumber salad was dressed lightly with a little vinegar and maybe some lemon and olive oil. It was a subtle dressing that allowed the flavor of the various vegetables to come through.

For my entree, I had the cashew nut tofu and vegetables. It was a generous portion of colorful veggies with a light sauce. I would have like more cashews- they were quite few and far between, but the relatively small number of them DID make for a super healthy entree and I was happy about that. The tofu was lightly pan fried- with little or no breading- exactly the way I like it. I asked for no rice knowing that the fresh mango-coconut sticky rice dessert would be calling my name. Half of that carb-y dessert would be plenty of starch for me, and I knew I didn’t need to fill up on rice with my entree also with such a plentiful plate of vegetables.

The dessert was awesome. The chunks of mango were sweet and juicy and the coconut sauce over the sticky rice was heaven. This is historically one of my favorite desserts, and though I’ve never had a version as unbelievably addictive as the one from Land in NYChttps://bigforkinmouth.com/2010/04/22/land-northeast-thai-1565-2nd-avenue-new-york-ny ) this was came pretty close and Gabriel and I demolished it in less than 5 minutes.

Both of us really enjoyed our dinners and the attentive waitresses. The setting was much prettier on the inside than we expected from the outside. My only complaint was that it was freezing inside and I really wished I had a sweater. Otherwise,  I was totally impressed with Isan Thai and will definitely return!

 

Louie’s Modern: 1289 N. Palm Ave. Sarasota, FL

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heart of palm salad kale salad salmon

I have a new Sarasota favorite! YAY! I met my family here for a goodbye dinner as my parents are heading out of town for the summer. Knowing that it’s run by the same people as Libby’s, (another fav) I knew I was in for a treat. I did go with slightly lowered expectations because of a surprising number of poor reviews on Yelp, but I had an open mind having been misled by Yelpers before.

Pulling up to the cool building/parking lot/outdoor bar area, It looked like a pretty fancy place by Florida standards. We walked inside to find beautifully tasteful decor. A sleek fountain in the front sets the tone of the ambiance which is minimalist, detail-oriented and chic. It is young, modern and hip feeling, but not in a trendy way.

We were seated at a comfortable banquette and looked over our placemat-menus. It has one of the most appealing selections of any restaurant I’ve been to. Even as a non-meat-eater, there were tons of awesome choices and picking one was not an easy task. It was made a little easier when Gabriel agreed to share two different salads as a starter.

The Kale Caesar was exceptional. I happen to love Kale in any form, but for the many people who don’t, I think this salad would be a great way to try it again. It didn’t even need the dressing that it came with, but once I tasted the creamy, delicious version of this classic, I devoured it even faster. The other salad we ordered was the Hawaiian Hearts of Palm with roasted beets, sunchoke, shaved fennel, radish, cucumber, pressed ricotta, and a fancy aged balsamic. It was light but full of flavor with ingredients that definitely don’t find their way into my at-home salads. Although I preferred the Kale salad, this too was wonderful.

For my entree, I ordered the Wood Fired Scottish Salmon served with blood orange confit, hearts of palm,  and pomegranate. I had a delicious side of roasted mushrooms- which sadly, I forgot to photograph. Both were outstanding, cooked to perfection and full of unexpected, complimentary flavors. The portion sizes were just right- and except for a small taste of a homemade cracker and some garlic toast, I didn’t even need to fill up on the awesome (and dangerously tempting) basket of bread on the table. I did, however, fall victim to sharing a glorious slice of Key Lime pie. It’s one of my very favorite desserts and not even wedding-preparation dieting could hold me back from indulging in a shared piece. (This too, I forgot to photograph. Sorry!)

Overall, my experience here was way above my expectations. It’s no surprise that even in the ‘off season’ they were crowded and having a reservation proved to be a good (and necessary) idea. I hope that my 5 star review will help the Yelp ratings, which I am happy to report, are WAY off.  I will surely be back asap. The prices are reasonable for an amazing dinner out, and I honestly loved everything about it. Bravo!

 

Cracker’s Bar & Grill: 502 NW 6th St. Crystal River, FL

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After an AMAZING experience of swimming with a wild manatee, Gabriel and I found ourselves starving and in a town we knew nothing about. Our boat captain told us that Crackers is the best place around to grab lunch, so we headed straight there.

We walked through the restaurant to be seated out back, and found a huge deck with round tables and umbrellas. It had a tiki bar/casual vibe and there was even the predictable dude-with-guitar playing decent, classic rock, cover tunes.

Our waiter took our order and made a few suggestions. We started with the clam strips appetizer- one of my favorite and very rarely indulged-in snacks. We decided to share the suggested salmon and grouper sandwiches with sides of fries and a salad.

The clam strips came out quickly and looked awesome- if not kind of skimpy. They were hot, crunchy and a little bit more breaded than I like, but we polished them off so quickly that we felt a little shorted. The price was more or less fair, but the portion really could have been a bit more generous.

The sandwiches and the bread they came on were delicious. The fish was simply prepared and fresh, and the ripe tomatoes and crunchy lettuce were refreshing. The rolls were great for the first few bites, but quickly got soggy beyond holding, and ended up on the plate while we used a fork to finish the fish. The fries were exactly as requested- extra crunchy and well-done. The salad, made mostly of iceberg and croutons, left a lot to be desired. I find it especially odd when the sandwiches come with a decent lettuce like romaine, and then they skimp with a salad made of iceberg.

Overall, the setting was what made this a memorable meal. The food was pretty good- but not really noteworthy. If you’re in the area, it’s a fair choice, but I’d be inclined to explore more if I’m ever back there with some time and hunger on my hands.